On the evening of December 16th, I attended a holiday market in Santa Fe, and dropped $100 on a small mug. 

That could have been the end of that: a single purchase in the ocean of life. 

Instead, I opted to imbue that experience–of buying a $100 mug–with meaning. So much so that you’re reading about it now.

The Hangover

The meaning-making process started the following morning, when I woke up with a post-purchase hangover. I had a serious case of the swirls. My mind was awash with unpleasant thoughts:

— I never thought I’d spend $100 on a mug.

— This was an excessive extravagance for such a tiny household item like that.

— … bordering on irresponsible, really. 

— I mean, I already own a mug. 

— Was this a foolish redundancy?

— An immoral redundancy?

— Compulsive in any way?

— Was it really worth it? 

— Will I regret it?

— I dread potentially having to field regret!

— What will my partner think when I tell him? 

— Will he like the mug? 

— Will he think I’m irresponsible? 

Not fun. 

A cast on delight

This thought-cloud followed me out of bed and to our sunrise tea ritual. Every morning, Jeremy and I greet the day with a gongfu ceremony, facing the rising sun.

Morning tea ceremony setting

It’s usually my favorite time of day, with all of the senses and elements delightfully engaged. Jeremy prepares a beautiful table setting with an indigo-dyed tea cloth, fires up the wood stove, pours water into an earthen mauve kettle to boil, burns sage, and follows with wormwood incense. We are seated side-by-side, and Jeremy brews the tea-du-jour in a tiny clay pot, serving rounds and rounds in silence. For him, it’s a form of meditation, and for me, it’s a time for spiritual reading. 

After several bowls, and cued by daybreak, he rings a chime. The floor is open for conversation. The topics vary in nature, from spiritual to playful to logistical. Whatever is alive for us is what we share and discuss.

final pour

Can you guess what was alive for me that morning?  

The aforementioned thought-cloud rained out my mouth. I told Jeremy that I bought a mug last night. How I felt guilty about the cost. How the vendor was a shy young potter with serious eyes and a curly crop. How she followed me out of the stall when I initially declined to buy. How she reduced the price by $50, to offer me the mug for $100. How I felt guilty and kinda-sorta obliged. How I paid while feeling badly for not checking in with Jeremy first. How I never thought I’d spend $100 on a mug.

Then Jeremy asked to see it. 

I got up, removed it from its wrapping, and showed it to him: 

Photo of the mug of great price

“It’s beautiful,” he said.

That slowed the churn of my thoughts. It was beautiful. My ruminations gave way to what they had obscured: other, quite lovely facets of the purchase experience. 

I recalled how I caught sight of the mug from a few stalls away, and bee-lined my way to it, how it reeled me in! 

How I was so smitten that I did not notice any other pieces in the stall. How, in the moment, I had coined a term for the mug’s aesthetic: rustic Versailles

And that, if I took this piece of art home to become My Mug, it would grace my field of vision throughout the day, adorning my desk, a stunning vessel for herbal tea, a beacon of beauty. 

Most poignantly, the mug ushered me into an introspective study of beauty.  

Beauty as spiritual experience

For as long as I remember, I have been fascinated by beauty in many forms, human, natural, architectural and written, to spatial, decorative and painterly. I’ve also been entranced by “extraordinary” spiritual experiences, as described by various teachers, both ancient and contemporary. Things like flashes of non-dual insight, colorful kundalini awakenings, bursts of bhakti, encounters with non-physical beings, and vanishing astral amulets (see Autobiography of a Yogi).

Along with this fascination has been a yearning for extraordinary spiritual experience.  As with most yearnings, it can feel painful, with notes of disappointment, and dissatisfaction. Then, many years ago, something dawned on me. I’m actually no stranger to a rather extraordinary spiritual experience, which I take for granted because of its presence in my daily life. That is the experience of beauty. 

Here’s how I see it: beauty is not in any given object. If this was so, we’d all find the same things beautiful. We  all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So if beauty is not in the object, where is it? It seems to me that the objects we find beautiful have some quality that catalyzes something in us, prompting the experience of beauty. In that way, beauty is an upwelling of something within us. When we find something beautiful, we have no resistance to it. Resistance melts away. Without resistance, there is a sort of merging with the object. And this is what we call the experience of beauty: when the distinction between subject (myself) and object (the iris, the painting, the prose) collapses–and I feel it, I know it… viscerally! 

What a delicious experience that is! 

Beauty has become my signal that a merging has occurred, that a subject-object distinction has collapsed in my perception. As such, the experience of beauty is a particularly enjoyable encouragement to me on my spiritual path. (Perhaps this is why spiritual traditions around the world have incorporated things that tend to prompt this experience of beauty: sandalwood incense, temple carvings, angelic music, cliff-top monasteries, rose windows…) Beauty helps me trust in a reality beyond the appearance of duality, and appreciate that separation is an illusion. The gradual divestment of my belief in separation–particularly as represented by the ego–is truly the crux of my spiritual endeavors. 

Wonderfully, as I proceed on my path, the experience of beauty has become increasingly frequent for me, more ubiquitous. It arises as I encounter objects and situations that I may not have found beautiful before. This reminds me of a quote from Sufism: “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.” I feel like this growing capacity to experience beauty is a sign that there is a growing awareness of my true nature, of which beauty is a facet or flavor. 

Perhaps you see why I so appreciate this ordinary-extraordinary experience of beauty! 

Now back to our lovely mug.


As I continued to share my mug-purchase experience with Jeremy, I uncovered more: unacknowledged assumptions, unquestioned ideas, sponsoring thoughts, and beliefs that influence my relationship with shopping and money. How interesting that I wouldn’t think twice about spending $100 on some things, but for some reason, a mug was not among them. How interesting that it almost felt dangerous to spend this $100; like I was risking my moral standing, or the sense of myself as a “responsible” person. How interesting that the negatively-experienced elements of this experience completely eclipsed the positive ones. 

As I unpacked this simple experience, my mood brightened, and the cloud began to lift. That’s when I thought of the word tantra. Despite my background in Eastern spiritualities, I have a pretty surface-level understanding of it, and the words “tantra” and “tantric” continue to evoke cliches (as depicted in the image below). In a recent conversation with a friend, he described tantra as “the practice of using the stuff of daily life for spiritual transformation.” I know that his definition is far from comprehensive, but that it does accurately reflect a very important dimension of tantra–that of integration.

Chakrasamvara Thangka Painting – Integrating the masculine and feminine principles.

Tantric money

So as I was reflecting on that money experience with Jeremy, I realized that I was practicing tantra. Move over, tantric sex: here comes tantric money! I was leveraging what came up around an ordinary money experience to get a view into what lies beneath, what unseen or half-seen thoughts, emotions and feelings motivate my experience and behaviors. As these are brought to my awareness, I am able to field them consciously, also recognizing what serves me and what does not. And behaving accordingly.

The money stuff too

So, as I type this at my desk (with my gorgeous mug at my side), I’ll articulate Wisdom & Money’s invitation to you, in my own way, colored by this ordinary experience of mine: 

Will this be a year of tantric money? 

Will your money-related questions, stuckness, curiosities or difficulties be brought into the fold as grist for the spiritual or personal-growth mill? 

It can be easier to perceive other dimensions of life as this fodder for growth and transformation. Money “stuff,” on the other hand, is so often so deeply ingrained, taken for granted, overlooked or swept under the rug. Perhaps we can make this year different by making it all the same: all of our ordinary and extraordinary experiences–including those related to money–can be grist for the mill, vehicles for greater awareness and peace. 

We hope you will accept this invitation! And if you’d like to explore the use of money experiences as a gateway for spiritual transformation, in community and good company, please consider our monthly online sessions, open retreats, or 1:1 spiritual companionship.

One Comment

  1. re: Meaning Making Process.
    Nadia’s essay invited me to think and feel about several things.
    1. The essence of beauty discussed between calming, almost tactile photos, was so powerful that I’m not yet prepared to comment.
    2. Here are the questions I asked myself after reading the Meaning Making Process.
    A. On what have I spent a lot of money? B. Little or no money? C. No money and regret not acquiring the item. Now in retrospect what importance or meaning do these things have in my life? As I try to answer these questions I’m gaining a deeper insight into how I value things, causes, crusades into which the flow of money may or may not make a difference. In Nadia’s words, ” foster growth and transformation and greater awareness and peace.” Thank you Nadia, for giving me an example how money and wisdom can interconnect and deepen my comprehension why I am so drawn to the work of the organization. Thank you.

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